How to Live Life [Abroad]: A Review of Karen McCann’s “Dancing in the Fountain: How to Enjoy Living Abroad”
When Karen McCann undertakes uprooting herself from the U.S. with her husband, she does it with a joyful bent. In her work, Dancing in the Fountain: How to Enjoy Living Life Abroad, McCann relives moving from a conventional life in the Midwest to the Mediterranean adventure of Seville, Spain. Spinning a tale of side trips, desires fulfilled and lessons learned, McCann writes what may be taken as a manual by few, a charming voyeuristic experience by others, and a vicarious cultural exchange by all.
McCann’s voice carries this novel; one feels an honorary member of her vividly illustrated circle of friends. It’s easy to imagine her finishing a thought, putting up a hand with a smile and saying—“Oh, that reminds me!” before she’s off again, meandering through her foibles learning Spanish in Spain, volatile painting lessons in Seville, her husband’s brush with cancer, and more. One thing is clear: McCann dives into life wherever she is, learning to love a new culture with all its complexities even while staying loyal to her roots and first home.
Not just a reckoning of singular experiences, McCann’s novel is a saga of the people she meets. McCann dives into adventures alongside friends she makes along the way. In fact, perhaps one of the novel’s greatest lessons is that it’s never too late to make friends. Forgoing reservations and inhibitions, McCann forges friendships around the globe, and these friendships make her stories glow.
Ultimately one does gasp for breath a little, being plunged so extensively into McCann’s personal side trips and history. In true Mediterranean fashion, McCann begins her story in the middle and rounds it out with meandering tangents meant to be savored. At times, however, this can feel a bit like mental whiplash; one moment we’re tasting coffee in Seville, Spain, the next chasing squirrels in Cleveland, Ohio. McCann’s earnestness provides the thread, encouraging readers onward with the continuous backbeat of, “And you can do it, too!”
One thing McCann does gloss over, however, is the matter of finances. Able to afford multiple trips to Spain as well as a “test year” in Seville before actually uprooting, the ongoing upkeep of a US property, health insurance in two countries, not to mention day-to day-living—and all this on no current income—McCann’s financial situation seems a bit like a dream. Her experience is clearly shaped by her ability to keep an incredible safety net in the United States as well as not having to worry about monetary security; financial questions do not play a role.
And yet, one does not begrudge McCann her successes, which it’s clear she’s earned through goodwill and great determination. It is not extravagant living, but rather extravagant mobility that sets her apart. Indeed, McCann’s book could be taken on not just a guide for how to enjoy living abroad, but how to enjoy living—by throwing oneself into whatever one is passionate about, finding good food and good friends, and never begrudging the effort. The rewards, as McCann could convince any reader, are worth it, so let the courageous adventurer enjoy every last minute!